...So here I am, riding the Manhattan-bound train. On a road to nowhere, or maybe just the West Village. Is it okay to have my laptop out? I once saw a guy actually sit here and watch Despicable Me on his laptop while heading back into Brooklyn. Is that lady giving me the side-eye for using my laptop? It feels like I'm breaking the rules even though I've seen plenty of people do it. It's not my fault our connection is down at the apartment and I have to resort to desperate, possibly mugging-worthy methods in order to deliver my column on deadline. Don't look at me like that, lady. I know what I'm doing!
I'm sorry. Let me explain. Everything I know about the obtrusive inner monologue I just shared with you above, I learned this week on OLTL from Bo Buchanan and Kelly Cramer. Apparently in their shared lovelorn trauma, they turned into characters straight out of Days of our Lives. OLTL is generally not a soap where they do the long-winded mental "talking to myself" thing, but all of a sudden this week, there's Bo and Kelly yammering on about their true feelings in voice-over.
It's the legacy of James E. Reilly, and I don't like it one bit. "I just know Sami drugged Austin! But how can I prove it? Something's wrong with Marlena...but what? Why do you suddenly have yellow eyes and a husky, sepulchral voice that seems to emanate from the depths of Hell, Doc?" You get the idea. It doesn't work for me, and it totally doesn't work for Llanview in my opinion.
Were the OLTL dialogue writers busy this week? Christmas shopping? Halloween party, perhaps, depending on when these scripts were written? Freelancing for the Huffington Post for a few nickels? Did they say to themselves (in voice-over), "Hmm, well, I don't really want to sit here and figure out how to get Bo or Kelly's mental states across in stage direction or reasonable real-life dialogue, and I've got something in the microwave and my Tivo is full to burst, so how about I just have them go the Reilly way and talk to themselves in their heads? We can still party like it's 1994, right? There, job done! Enjoy, Robert S. Woods! Literary pearls spewed forth from my writer's mind!" Jean-Paul Belmondo monologuing in Breathless, it was not.
Anyway. Another wild and crazy winter week in Llanview, and as I predicted, the altogether-entirely-expected has indeed happened: Crazy Eddie Ford is dead. A little sooner than I would have liked, given the sheer entertainment of John Wesley Shipp's manic performance, but that's the post-millennial ADHD hypersoap for you. But that's not to say what went down was unpalatable, or uninteresting. There were a few dog storylines which we shall address, but for the most part, a lot of worthwhile stuff went down: Viki and Dorian teamed up, Matthew had a Ryan Lavery Rage Attack, John said those three forbidden words, Clint kept his pimp hand strong, and Bo finally learned exactly what it was like to be Nora after her indiscretion with Sam Rappaport. So cuddle up by the fire and eat your heaping helping of figgy pudding in this, your pre-holiday Two Scoops!
Domestic Homicide First, I just want to say and reiterate that I think Eddie Alderson has grown into one of the strongest young actors on this show. In the last couple years he's become a stunning breakout talent, but his ability has not been appreciated by the program lately. That being said, Matthew's reaction to seeing Bo and Inez together was straight out of R. Kelly's Trapped In The Closet. Sheer camp! I could practically hear Monsieur Kelly on the soundtrack with his trademark reverb-echo, going, "and then Matthew saw them bangin'...bangin'...bangin'..."
The hand to the mouth! The little choking noise! Those unfortunate "Love Finds Andy Hardy" clothes! Regardless, Alderson's performance once Matthew started cruising the winter roads was pitch-perfect, especially when he railed against Inez while on the phone with Danielle. This is a strong young actor whose character is being foolishly vilified for creepy old Nate. Now Matthew's basically driven his mom and Rex off the road without realizing it, and he's going to end up looking like a sap when this all clears up.
I don't mind Matthew being manipulated, or making foolish choices, or lashing out, because that is classic soap opera drama. Many of his scenes this week were excellent. But the larger question -- and it's one I'm sure some of you as well as I know the answer to -- is, why is Matthew always being duped or being made out to be a snob or jerk lately? If some of these things happened in a vacuum, it would be one thing, but to compound Matthew's blunders one on top of another seems like something else. Why on top of being duped must he also run his mom off the road after she was almost sexually violated? Why is he an endless meanie to Nate and Danielle at the worst possible moments?
We could ask this question of many other characters who get the chaff or the axe from OLTL or other recent soaps: Schuyler, Ross, Marty, Natalie, even stalwarts like Dorian or Blair. Why must they sometimes be not only rash, foolish, or gullible, but also outright dangerous or endangering others? Yet we know the answer, I think -- it's because ABC would rather promote someone else (in this case, Nate Salinger), and as such, legacy character Matthew Buchanan must be made to look as bad as possible by comparison.
I know Matthew's mistakes are mostly due to manipulation by others and will be forgiven, but the overall effect is one that seems intended to degrade his character for another. And I think that's transparent and lazy. If Matthew were to have a major story arc of his own while making these mistakes I would be less analytical about this, but it seems like his folly is only in the service of others' arcs. If Nate or any other preferred young adult character can't stand on their own -- and Nate has no real personality that I have noticed -- then don't have them on the show. I liked the drama with Matthew this week, but I keep fearing it is only there to make me more sympathetic to Nate (which I'm not, sorry, and never will be).
Okay, all incidental bitching about Matthew's treatment aside: The Buchanan family storyline this week pretty much rocked. One thing Ron Carlivati has always been good at is looking for character-driven role reversals, and he nailed that as Bo was bamboozled into thinking he'd bedded down with Inez. Now, facing Nora after her kidnapping ordeal, Bo finds himself in the position Nora was in back in 1998 -- staring at his spouse in a hospital bed, desperate for her love and forgiveness while harboring a terrible secret. He now cannot help but understand Nora's mistake with Sam Rappaport -- a mistake borne out of a desire to save Bo from suicide. Their roles are swapped, and Bo has become Nora, who he judged too harshly for so many years.
What's more, it seems entirely possible Nora might become Prime Suspect #1 in the Who Killed Crazy Eddie case. This would be a much, much smarter and more exciting story angle -- Nora on trial! -- as opposed to forcing us to watch some horrific "Ford on trial" storyline. Imagine if Bo is put on the stand and forced to admit he "slept" with Inez! Imagine Nora confronting Inez with the truth! The Bo/Nora/Matthew/Clint/et al. material here is gold, as opposed to that horrific Ford boxing nonsense -- even if Clint's motives remain a bit baffling -- and I hope the show continues to explore it properly.
I will say, though, that Nora being the murderer would basically be a carbon copy of the "Who Killed Colin McIver?" storyline in 2001. Everyone was sooo baffled by that story but I just wanna say here and now, I knew from the start that Nora killed Dr. Colin. They did the same "several hours later" flash-forward then that they've done with this story, and in that storyline, they went from showing Nora drugged on a bed to lying prone on the floor of Colin's upstairs hall. I knew she killed him then and there. I'll take my medal now. Nine years late. No, please, no applause. What were we talking about?
This Is For That Time Traveling Painting Story When Dorian told Viki, "we're gonna bring that bitch down!" I could have sworn she had that "Reva goes back in time" story on GL in mind this week. Oh, Kim Zimmer, I kid because I love you, really, I do. I gotta admit Dorian's motives are still pretty frickin' hazy to me -- they just seem to be there to give her something to do, and really, May or Dorian should have bigger fish to fry -- but I am just happy to see all these talented veteran soap stars active and working. Viki is actually goal-oriented in a story for herself, and that hasn't happened in ages.
I do find pulling a "social issue" alcoholism angle on Echo to be kind of weak. This is a wild, outsized character from a brief, strange, and forgotten era in OLTL history, when it was written for a hot minute by Henry Slesar, the guru behind years of the spooky murder mystery soap Edge of Night. With him, he brought Edge-style characters like Echo -- aristocrats obsessed with gothic family secrets, involved in bizarre murder attempts, with insane-sounding names that do not occur in nature. Slesar was a genius in his way but was perhaps ill-suited for an earthy, socially conscious soap such as OLTL (pre-Paul Rauch and the whole Cord/Tina "Starship Heaven" era).
Why not draw on Echo's weird, altogether-kooky Addams Family past to tell a nifty story with Viki, Charlie, and Dorian, instead of trying to drag her down to earth? Echo as nouveau riche bitch with a title and a funny upper-crust accent is much more interesting to me than Kim Zimmer going to Alcoholics Anonymous, and I've seen Brian Kerwin play through these tiny little alcoholism stories once too often (see also: Brody, 2008). I still support Viki and Charlie, though, so Echo better just drop it. Drop it, Echo! Don't make me come in there!
Return Of The Bimbo Goat You may seem confused by this topic header but deep down, dear reader, you know of whom I speak. The Bimbo Goat is kind-hearted, sweet, and loving, but a little soft in the head. He means well, he has poetry in his soul, but he never seems to get it together, and he makes rash, clueless decisions that seem more befitting a junior high student. He should be a shining star in Llanview, but somehow everyone he's involved with ends up making him look like an amateur and idiot. The Bimbo Goat always takes the hit for other characters, and inevitably ends up shuffling off the stage with a weak "neigh!" and his tail between his legs. I speak, of course, of Viki's pride and joy, Joe Riley's youngest son, Dorian's burning flame of passion -- Joey Buchanan, the Bimbo Goat of Llanview.
Our Joey should not be the Bimbo Goat, but invariably this is what he turns into, ever since Castle's Nathan Fillion vacated the role. Don Jeffcoat was perhaps the worst offender, a clueless little fella who lost Kelly to Tim Gibbs's grim Kevin Buchanan-by-way-of-Christopher Nolan and was made to look like an ineffectual, baby-faced eunuch. Bruce Michael Hall's surfer-priest Joey had early potential, but came off like an idiot in a foolish pairing with Jen Rappaport, who he stupidly married, and then was made to look like an even bigger dunce when she cheated on him with snarky old flame Rex. Joey is a sweet, artistic, passionate, essentially good-hearted character, unlike his suave, ambitious brother Kevin; or smoldering dark knight John; renegade Todd; or clever ne'er-do-well Rex.
There is a degree of naïveté and hope to him, perhaps, but when he is written best, he has the strength, intelligence, and cultured, philosophical bent of someone like his mentor, Reverend Andrew Carpenter. Joey loves art and photography, and he loves to cook; he was able to see past Dorian's age to a vibrant, passionate older woman who he fell in love with. There used to be a place for characters like Joey on soaps, but nowadays when they come along and are positioned against the "tougher," more cynical leading men, they become what Joey has become again and again -- the sap. The dope. The uptight hypocrite. The dumb, starry-eyed kid. The Bimbo Goat.
This is how I've come to see Tom Degnan's Joey Buchanan in record time, sadly -- Degnan has the vulnerability of Joey, but no power behind it. Instead, he gets engaged to Aubrey, a woman he barely knows, and throws a kid's temper tantrum when his parents balk. Everyone seems to know Aubrey might be a bad idea except him. He obviously still carries a torch for Kelly but is too petulant to face it. Everyone seems ready to wet-nurse him over his rash decisions, and judging by Aubrey's cryptic phone calls, she may be running a con game of her own. We've been here before with Joey many times, and I'm already bored.
This is not a fault of Joey's innate character; this is a handicap forced upon him by lazy writers who don't know how to write for someone like Joey. Maybe he's not Sonny Corinthos or Jason Morgan or John McBain, but this is a legacy character with a rich history and unique personality. He doesn't have to be a joke. Not every lead on a soap has to be a cynic -- the only way you counterbalance cynics is by showing white knights, too. He doesn't have to be the Bimbo Goat of Llanview. I already find this Aubrey/Joey/Kelly triangle pretty tired, and Kelly's inner monologues aren't helping -- but what really annoys me is how once again, OLTL seems intent on tanking Our Joey, never casting him right or taking him seriously as a leading man. It's not Joey -- it's OLTL's lack of creativity. The poor Bimbo Goat.
Insert Inappropriate "Mystery Box" Joke Here Can we get away with that header? Let's find out! Roll the dice, Soapcentral! Okay, so, yeah, Blair's still lugging that box around. She couldn't get Téa to open it, and Todd got interrupted. I still want to know what's in there. I'm excited by this story, but it's moving at a snail's pace as we prep for the arrival of Ted King, the Promised One. Bring it on, please. Speed it up. I care about Blair, and about Blair getting a storyline that does not involve a serial killer, rapist, space alien, killer clown, or miscellaneous terrorist. And no, I don't think Todd killed Eddie. My vote -- I dunno. Inez? Nate?
For God's Sake, He's 40 Years Old ...Was my reaction when John finally, after like eighty years, told a woman he loved her without inference, body language, eye-blinks, Morse Code, or flash cards. Yeah, he said "I love you," but my question remains, what kind of thirty/fortysomething man can't tell a woman he loves her, is physically incapable for so long? And while I am mildly impressed John took the plunge and proposed to Natalie, it seemed sudden.
John and Natalie have had precious few scenes demonstrating any real intimacy or commitment to each other beyond the bundle in Natalie's oven -- in my opinion, their reunion has been rote and half-hearted, only a device to help power Natalie's baby secret. And I still don't think that's good enough for her, and John and Natalie's relationship, in my opinion, lost any real depth years ago. She's lost her spine and she's still lying, and I don't know where she'll end up when it's all said and done. Hopefully with someone else.
At least John cut his hair. I'll give him that. I don't think Michael Easton writes this lackluster material or is responsible for John's mealy-mouthedness; I think it's simply that no one at the show seems interested in writing for the couple at all or in improving John. There's no "there" there with the couple and hasn't been in a number of years, to say nothing of John's non-development. It seems forced.
I might be able to get behind John and Natalie again -- somehow -- if they actually delved into why each character actually wanted to be with the other despite their initial break-up and experiences with other people (Marty, Jared, Evangeline, Blair, et cetera), and how and why John suddenly wants marriage and a real commitment other than out of obligation for the child. But the show seems to think it's enough that John and Natalie are together. That's plot-driven writing. It would ruin any couple -- even one I soured on long ago. That, at least, is not the fault of John.
So, that was this week's surprisingly weighty column! Gee, the topic headers seemed a lot more irreverent than the actual content, didn't they? I know, I know. Anyway, so, yes, happy holidays in advance, everyone -- happy belated Chanukkah, shalom, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and so on and so forth. I hope I haven't missed anything. I'll be back in two weeks to help Soap Central ring in the New Year with the 2010 wrap-up, and you can also hear my croaky vocal tones on the next edition of Soap Central Live, babbling incoherently as I compare Mitch Laurence's abrupt March exit to that of a Scooby-Doo villain. Until then, stay warm, stay happy, curl up with your family, watch Frank Capra movies, and don't spare the eggnog. Ho, ho, ho!